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Target Class Action Defense Cases–Muro v. Target: Seventh Circuit Affirms Denial Of Class Action Treatment Of TILA Class Action Holding Plaintiff Lack Standing To Appeal Denial Of Class Certification As She Settled Individual Claim

As Matter of First Impression, because Plaintiff Settled her Individual Claims Following Denial of Class Action Certification Motion of Class Action Alleging Violations of Truth in Lending Act (TILA), Plaintiff Lacked Standing to Appeal Propriety of District Court Order Denying Class Certification Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against various Target entities alleging violations of the federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA); the class action complaint alleged that Target sent plaintiff an unsolicited Target Visa card in the mail in violation of TILA’s prohibition against sending credit cards in the absence of a request or application by the consumer. Muro v. Target Corp., ___ F.3d ___ (7th Cir. August 31, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, Target sent unsolicited Visa Cards, which may be used anywhere that accepts Visa cards, to holders of Target Guest Card, which may be used only at Target stores. Id., at 2 and n.2. Guest Card holders were given the option of activating the Visa cards, and if they elected to do so, then the corresponding Guest Card would be deactivated and any balance on the Guest Card would be transferred to the Visa card. Id., at 2-3. Plaintiff had a Guest Card account that she closed in 1999; plaintiff “received no further correspondence from Target for nearly five years” at which time she received the unsolicited Visa card. Id., at 2. Plaintiff did not activate the Visa card and did not incur any charges or fees in connection with the solicitation. Id. Nonetheless, plaintiff filed her class action complaint alleging TILA violations, id. Plaintiff moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action and defense attorneys moved for summary judgment; the district court “granted summary judgment as to Target and denied class certification.” Id. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.

The Seventh Circuit began its analysis by noting that while TILA states “[n]o credit card shall be issued expect in response to a request or application therefor,” this provision “does not apply to the issuance of a credit card in renewal of, or in substitution for, an accepted credit card.” Muro, at 3-4 (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 1642). According to the district court, any class members that had Guest Card accounts fell within the exception of credit cards issued in “renewal or substitution” thereof, id., at 4. The district court also had denied class action treatment because plaintiff’s claims were not typical of those of the class – “unlike most of the proposed class members, [plaintiff] had alleged that she had closed her Guest Card account.” Id., at 4-5. And while plaintiff could adequately represent a class defined as recipients of the unsolicited Visa cards that previously had closed their Guest Card accounts, the district court found that plaintiff had not demonstrated that such a class would be sufficiently numerous to warrant class action treatment. Id., at 5. Plaintiff then settled her individual claim but claimed to reserve the right to appeal the denial of her class action certification motion, id. The Circuit Court held that plaintiff had “no cognizable interest” in the class action certification issue because she accepted the offer of judgment, so the Court focused on the issue of whether she could nevertheless appeal the district court’s decision not to certify the proposed class. Id., at 5-6.

The Seventh Circuit defined the issue of first impression as follows: “we are confronted with the question of whether a named plaintiff in a putative class action can settle her own claim and still appeal the court’s denial of her motion for class certification.” Mura, at 6. Based on its extensive analysis, see id., at 6-13, the Circuit Court held “we can discern no live, concrete controversy between [plaintiff] and Target that can justify permitting her to appeal the district court’s determination with respect to the certification of the class,” id., at 13. Accordingly, the Seventh Court affirmed the judgment of the district court. Id., at 19.

NOTE: The Seventh Circuit further observed, in dicta, that even if plaintiff had standing to appeal the district court order, “we would have no hesitation in holding that the district court did not clearly err in denying [plaintiff’s] motion for class certification of her section 1642 claim.” Muro, at 13. In the Circuit Court’s view, “The factual differences between [plaintiff’s] claims and the claims of her fellow putative class members are significant; as a result of these differences, certain provisions of TILA that apply in [plaintiff’s] case may not apply to most of her proposed fellow class members.” Id., at 14. Further, the district court also “correctly concluded that [plaintiff] had made no showing of the numerosity” of a class defined to exclude current Guest Card account holders. Id., at 15.

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